Image provided by author
Several people noticed when he first arrived. That was even before the antiques shop opened up. There were not so many out of town cars. It was not much of a car. Nothing that any of us would have guessed a famous artist might drive. But what do we know about that world?
He drove all around the town. After he left we shared stories and realized he had gone by nearly every public building, some two or three times. Though none of us saw him up at the factory. Maybe he even came to Millford with that in mind and all the rest was for context. He ended up at the station, asking Fletcher if, since he was a cop, he could open the gates. Fletcher told him it was private property. So: no.
Two weeks later he was back, towing a trailer. He parked the car across from the church. The passenger side view mirror damn near rattled the wrought iron fence, he came so close. He stood on the roof and took pictures of the collapsed steeple, freestyle, he told Gus Wagner, who asked what the hell he was doing. Just freestyle shots, since he liked the light and the angles.
Then he let himself into the factory. He had keys for the front gate and for the front doors. Word got around. None of us had so much as seen behind the fence for twenty-five years since vines had overgrown everything.
Not only did he not mind us following him in, he seemed to love it. You might think an artist needed quiet, but he needed an audience. He asked questions about what it had been like. Some people talked. I looked around at the clouded glass, the rust on anything metal, the thick dust on the floor, and thought it looked about as I would have expected.
Upstairs he made us stop before we walked in. Wait, wait, he said. Don’t touch the dust. I need it just like that. He pointed at a broom stuck upside down in a barrel by the door. Oh, God, the details, he said.
He knew what he wanted to see. He hired several of us to run power cords and lights in various places. That place is enormous, a third of a mile long, but he came prepared. It took us two days. That second night he said it was all set. Thirty-five lights all arranged to flash when he pressed the button.
It was something. From outside, in the darkness, it bloomed. He caught that. He caught everything inside. In an hour he was done. The next morning we pulled everything out, he locked up the place and left the way he’d come.
I saw the pictures. They have a certain beauty, I suppose. Though it seemed like a lot of work and expense, honestly, to show that nothing of any value remains here.
Jeff McLaughlin grew up in the Carolinas but lives and works in Minnesota. He is published in Kenyon Review Online and december magazine.